Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Want to be Fearless, but I Fear and therefore I Speak: "India's Daughter's" in Perspective

So Leslie Udwin arrives in India on the behest of BBC to do a story on the Nirbhaya rape case that happened on 16th December 2012 and led to nationwide shock, bereavement and agony which translated into protests and strong demands for the death penalty of the accused. After over 2 years since the incident, one of the accused has committed suicide in official records, one is in juvenile court and another 3 wait for their court hearing. The court that was supposed to handle this case was supposed to be a fast track court that was only fast enough to make a charge sheet in just 17 days and in sending one of the most devious perpetrators to the juvenile court for the mere technicality of his age. It has been 2 years since, the fast track court is still in the process of hearings and has given the accused such lawyers as obnoxious as the guilty themselves. The BBC documentary titled 'India's Daughter' appears in the wake of this lackadaisical approach to justice. What has garnered the attention of people with regards to this documentary is the statement made by one of the guilty, Mukesh Singh. It is his utter lack of guilt or any conscience that has shaken up people, who are now feeling too scandalized for having to listen to a demon, a monster. Was it necessary to publicise it this way? Was the shock deliberate? More importantly, the question that we should ask ourselves and the question whose answer the I&B ministry has already decided by banning the video, is the relevance of watching this video. Should we then watch Mukesh Singh and his lawyer spew their sick views on this documentary? How important is it to really know their viewpoint? Where are they stemming from? 
  Yes it might sound condescending coming from a woman of non-Indian descent. It might also seem unfair and problematic that there is an underlying "civilizing" vocabulary that goes along with this video. But, the truth is that despite the uncomfortable undercurrents in the documentary it has brought back in the limelight the movement that was started back in 2013 and eventually buckled not for lack of will but for sheer exhaustion. No, not all Indian men think like this man, but there are so many who do and the number sure matters.
  There are still several, not excluding the members of our own families who horrifyingly echo some part of these unfair statements, 'It's you, who has to take care of your own safety. Be safe', say the patriarchs of my family advising me to return home by 9 o'clock latest in the interest of my safety. They are scared they say. Yes, their fear is justified, but how do we tackle this fear, by not addressing our own complacency, our own contribution to this thought process, but by taking the easy way out, oppressing the woman sitting at home, forcing them to abide the 'rules' and be at home, in the interest of their 'safety'. It is much easier to close your eyes and hide in a hole then take on the David versus Goliath fight. The women want to fight, and they do. There is solidarity, but its pathetic and obnoxious to see how ill supported it is. I'm not saying women need men to take up their issues or speak for them, but when half a population, and that which is unfairly more in power positions, doesn't wish to contribute or even discuss, it does not help, but only hinders.
  Why those who are not in support of the documentary to be aired wish it to be banned is that they have always separated themselves with the perpetrator. As if he belongs to some underground hell hole that spurts up such demonic creatures to perpetrate crimes of unspeakable brutality. The fact that they look ordinary, have an ordinary voice and are more importantly human, and someone amidst us is what is causing the discomfort. The fact that they are echoing the sentiment (whether emerging from fear or a will to control) of countless Indian men and women, both in power and in our society at large is something which is even more disturbing. That he speaks in the language of some of our national and religious leaders who people willingly support is what is a very rude wakeup call for all. A forced self introspection that is discomforting, uneasy, self aware of its complicity in the rape culture.
  Now I wonder what if this documentary had been made not by a foreign woman but an Indian man. How differently the media and the so called nationalists respond? We often ask if we need someone to come from outside to speak on issues so intrinsic to us? If rather we should have our own agents talking about them. But the truth remains, that for whatever reason she was granted access denied to others, and while people only talk of making a documentary, her movie has been made, it has brought the discussion to the fore again and if we want to take it to a larger audience beyond just media we ought to watch it. It might disturb us, discomfort us and shock us. But it is precisely for these reasons that the movie should be released and watched, not in isolation on private internet channels but on TV, hearing our demon speak, echoing ideas that our religious fanatics uphold. It is possible we are being seen under a lens of racial bias world over, but it is not completely untrue that the justice has been delayed and countless more cases remain pending too.
  Yes it is named 'Indian Daughter' but rather than getting into the political discussion of the term and taking away from the urgency it demands, we need to have ourselves wake up to the discomfort of living in a society where rapes are not merely numbers but an everyday threat to all women without exception. To understand that maybe the title is politically skewed and merits debate, but what is more important is to bring this constant unaddressed unnerving attitude of a patriarchal system in purview. Finally it is the environment under observation that merits more attention than the lens itself. People should watch, introspect, and offer to help and support rather than either withhold freedom of women or believe that only a certain class is under threat. There is no denying that there are rapes in the name of religion and caste and they are equally horrifying and condemnable, but it is this attitude of complacency and seeing women as the site of violation to "teach a lesson" that has to be probed. There is much talk of education, but I feel, basic human empathy is all that is asked of and required when issues such as these are raised. Yes, this selective anger and revengeful attitude is as alarming as any other sweeping perception on women's safety and their agency to the urban space, but what is also important is to speak, to debate and to begin to change. For this alone, the documentary should be released by I&B. So that people can start to be speaking again.

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